The Peculiar Dilemma of Today’s Women of Color

Kamala Harris is carrying a gendered weight of issues onto the international political stage as Vice President-Elect of the United States. The first woman to hold that office, and also the first woman of color. A role model for little girls. Someone who acknowledges those who struggled and sacrificed for her to get there, but in truth, this is a journey she must chart alone.

It’s a peculiar dilemma.

As a sisterhood we’re cheering her on for stepping up and claiming space in this historical moment. And we give credit to those who had to gracefully step aside for it to happen.  

We crave these heroic versions of our story as women, especially women of color, as this country tries to move forward through troubled times. The expectations we place on ourselves – and others – can become really high, however.

We are supposed to be the ones to stay resilient, to stay super strong, to stay the course when our world seems to be falling apart.

No matter how noble our personal histories, is there any woman who hasn’t thought about walking away?

There’s a story that has been nagging at me for a while now, a childhood memory retold often over the years within my family of women. I have come to reimagine it this way:  

How the door must have slammed hard behind the young Black mother as she left her second-floor apartment in the projects that day. Balancing the rusted tub of laundry firmly in the crooks of her arms, she inched her way down the stairs to the side yard, already tired.

From the pocket of her cotton house-dress she snatched one clothespin, then another, repeating the pattern she had been taught since she was a little girl: whites first, then coloreds – light to dark – twisting and clamping each piece firmly in place in the frustrating routine.

The fretful chorus of two babies summoned her from the window above. Perhaps she was conflicted for a moment and even paused.

In the end, though, she turned away from duty, and she was gone. 

During my married and child-rearing years the incident became a cautionary tale about shouldering responsibility. During my midlife career changes, it actually seemed a little courageous to risk the unknown.

Now, in later life, I’m drawn more to the way the historical moment adds a revealing layer of meaning to our stories over time.

The young Black mother was born just before the Great Depression, lost her mother from a health crisis, and watched her father battle economic instability and emotional despair. In the aftermath of the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision in 1956, which kicked off the Civil Rights Movement, she was entering her 30’s.  

She had a husband who moved in and out of her bed and heart and she might have to consider going back to two-dollar-a-day work cleaning White women’s houses.

I can only guess at the deeper wounds she absorbed.

Doors of opportunity were locked to her that would slowly slide open for younger Black women like me as we came along. Perhaps, that day, she was recalling things she had already tossed aside.

Like the idea that being first in her high school typing class would lead to some kind of office work when she graduated high school. Like the ladylike demands of what a nice quiet girl like her with no interest in motherhood should and shouldn’t do. Like the emptied bottles she had begun to hide the next morning after trying to numb the pain of feeling forever tied down.

But this day, in the background of her thoughts, a different option much have surfaced.

She ran away and left it to others to take care of things, the women would say.

The ending of the young Black mother’s story is not dramatic, in the grand scheme of things. A few days after that incident she returned – in body – but her mind never settled down.  

She survived despite the odds, occasionally working, found another partner, had a strained relationship with her children, and stayed on the fringes of the family until she died in her early 60’s – alone.

Many women, especially women of color, can identify better with Kamala Harris at this moment, and women like her- even if we don’t have their visibility and influence.  The encouragement and support of others helps to keep us balanced.

But the weight of expectations are carried by all of us, just differently based on the societal challenges we face. The dilemma is always whether to step up to it, or whether to just walk away.       

For other blog posts on aging, intergenerational issues, and race read:

“Talking About Race Across Generations and Ethnicities”

“Aging Grace: Growing Up in Our Sixties”

“Sisterhood of Only Children”



1-3  1-4

My husband Art carries a camera on our daily morning stroll within the confines of our complex. He pauses often for a photograph, capturing incremental shifts of light on a flower or leaf with a closeup macro-lens.

I move at my own less-determined pace, like most of us are doing these days.

In quiet moments, when our conversation is interrupted, my contemplation is infused with uncertainty. How do we maintain the current awareness of our commonality and the physical separation we’re supposed to practice as we struggle to survive? And what kind of barriers will we end up creating between us in the process?

My steps often feel heavy with the demands of the route ahead. In a way, though, life has simplified as I learn to settle for much smaller goals.

Finding a research report that sounds promising.  A story of kindness that touches the heart.  A new diversion that offers some escape from the grieving of real and imagined loss. If I can make it at least one mile around the complex each morning instead of two, then I count that as progress. Just keep moving.

On the other hand, picturing the Race and Change work of bringing people together across cultures and differences in this new world of social distancing and self-isolation has been a challenge.  Until this morning’s jaunt.

For the first time in a couple of months, my walk becomes a little quicker as new ideas spring up and bounce lightly ahead of my usual thoughts.

We are nothing if not resilient. Against the backdrop of this global drama, we go about our lives continuing to deal with the personal crises of living, from broken faucets to crumbling relationships to shattered dreams and still make plans for the future, the when-this-is-over time, looking forward against all odds.

We are re-inventing ourselves. New ideas, new niches, and new possibilities always emerge from the rubble for those who are open to change.

And when the inevitable longing for reconnection reoccurs there will be tentativeness and a new level of socially-prescribed differences to confront.  Call it a re-integration.  We’ll have to figure out – again – how to deal with this version of differences, and what we can we learn from history to help us now.

Then it hits me: This is Race and Change: The Future.

Presentations on video. New stories of resiliency and re-invention. The Agents of Race and Change Award for youth with an online theme.  Who knows yet how and when we will re-integrate, in person, together? But for now, somehow, the work will continue.

Like the soft-focused swirls and angles of Art’s snapshots in the morning light, the ideas linger to play around with for the rest of the day.

Race and Change: Inspiring Stories -A Woman’s Room

I was 40 before I finally had a room of my own.

I realize now how important that is for women, especially today.

The demands we face doing our part to continue challenging injustice in difficult times can seem overwhelming at times. Who wouldn’t want to shut down, to hide away?

Growing up, my options of escape were limited. My mother struggled financially and even when she managed to rent a two-bedroom apartment we relied on the income from our renters, so she and I always shared a bed.

Then came college where I had a dorm roommate, followed by marriage and motherhood.  I became resigned to a life of only stolen moments of privacy.

As women, we are expected to be open doors.

A parade of assignments and responsibilities cross our threshold on a daily basis, side-by-side with the demands of people we love. And then along comes society behind them, delivering the problems of the world to the doorstep of women – collectively – saying we are the ones to can fix them.   

No wonder many women feel retreat-deprived.

Literally or figuratively, they want to close the door on the world.

I remember how good it felt in that first room of mine – much like the aftermath of a flurry of work for causes that seem doomed despite their worth. It became my armor, protection from the assaults of the world I experienced trying to find my way professionally and socially in my newly single life.

Withdrawal offered safety, for a while, a time for gathering strength – again.

Over time my room evolved into a haven of contemplation, for a while. It was a writing space that led to the genesis of projects, including the Race and Change presentations and travel that take me away from home a lot these days.

Going within can be creative – a renewal of intentions as we find our way – again.

Even in the darkest of times, as women we must learn how to keep the door cracked, if just a little.

  You never know what possibilities you might glimpse. A new idea, a different direction, an inspiration. For me it was a new companion on this Race and Change journey, and here I am, sharing a bed – again.


The Discomforts of Home

      On the porches and street corners of life in Jacksonville, Florida I grew up eavesdropping on stories as I came of age with integration. Eventually those Florida Southern reminiscences became the genesis of my cross-cultural Race and Change work.

    Curiously, though, the literary and musical presentation  “An Afternoon of Jazz and Multicolored Memories” that kicked off the national “Libraries Rock” summer reading program at the Jacksonville Public Library recently wasn’t the conventional homecoming for me.

    Isn’t it interesting that some places – and experiences – profoundly shape our lives, not by nurturing us but by pushing us away? In the process, discomfort toughens us.

    And if we return – in person or in memory – we are not like lost wanderers but like explorers. At least that’s how I felt onstage that day.

     I was performing just a few yards away from the notorious downtown park where pro- and anti- civil rights protesters clashed and rallied. I once joined marchers there to walk in a picket line. A few blocks beyond was the now historic building where I entered with trepidation when Blacks were first allowed to checkout books from the “White” library. My paper card became a passport to larger worlds.

     A few miles farther was the site of the old Gator Bowl where the Beatles performed, demanding an integrated audience, and I went – alone. Who could have predicted where that decision would lead.

And here I was, many decades later, in the library auditorium with a racially-mixed audience listening and nodding together to some of my stories, and then sharing some of their own.

    After the show many of them lingered, as if prolonging the respite before going back outside to face the heat and thunderstorms of life that assault us all in various ways.

    We had talked about the importance of working for positive change that affirms humanity, about staying the course of social justice, about holding on.

     Maybe this work, collecting and sharing hopeful stories of race in trying times, in some small way, makes discomfort seem a little less daunting, I thought, as I prepared to leave home again.

Race: An Unwelcome Guest in the Room

In his thoughtful article, “Can My Children Be Friends with White People?” in the New York Times recently, Ekow N. Yankah, with Yeshiva Law School, wrote poignantly of his heartbreak and loss of trust in this fractured political climate. I, too, am concerned that we tell our children – and grandchildren – that the world is broken beyond repair and then say we expect them to fix everything when they take over one day, but with no roadmap because we have lost our way.

The intimate dinner party was one of those well-intended affairs peculiar to the getting-to-know-you or let’s-reconnect phase in a relationship. The conversation, like the meal, was designed to be spicy but easily digestible.  Later we all moved from the round glass table to our living room with drinks, curled up on the sofa and floor cushions, and took turns strategically trolling through our catalog of experiences hunting for stories and observations that would resonate without rubbing anyone the wrong way.

The final sign of a successful evening was coming soon. There would be a tinge of regret underscoring the start of the long goodbye. An inner nod confirmed that simpatico had been achieved at the gathering.  Then suddenly, something surfaced, and flitted by.

You know the feeling.

I tried not to react or change my tone of voice when I detected the first sense of it, like a wayward lash in the corner of the eye. But it was there all right, inching across the coffee table, weaving through the carpet, boldly crawling into our midst like it couldn’t be caught.

A guest started screaming, scrambled to her feet in distress, threatened to leave. But, I’d encountered this type of intruder many times over the years. This one was formidable, admittedly, and so obvious that it was do-or-die time to spring into action.  Instinctively I reached for a shoe to hit it hard – then reconsidered. Would that just further rattle the guests and ruin any hope of gathering together again?  If I did, would I be accused of overreacting? If I didn’t, would it seem like I wasn’t aware, or didn’t care?

Such are the dilemmas in today’s uneasy times.

This was a scene where the varmint was real and identifiable, but interracial relations are also a lot like that.

Daily, we are hit with examples of racism and bigotry. They are intruders that creep into our awareness and assault our consciousness. No thinking person would not be outraged. No feeling person would not be discouraged. No disparaged minority would not be saddened, fearful and dismayed.

In his thoughtful article, “Can My Children Be Friends with White People?” in the New York Times recently, Ekow N. Yankah, with Yeshiva Law School, wrote poignantly of his heartbreak and loss of trust in this fractured political climate. I am concerned that we tell our children – and grandchildren – that the world is broken beyond repair and then say we expect them to fix everything when they take over one day, but with no roadmap because we have lost our way.

Challenging racism is difficult. Historically, it adapts to the era, taking on multiple, often conflictive forms. Language and images. Class inequalities. Claims of being color blind and suffering reverse discrimination. When bigotry periodically appears to slink underground, seems to dissipate, then rebounds with ferocity like we’re seeing now, we start to believe that no progress has been made. Scholars, however, will tell you that’s the cyclical process.   

Living in the South, I’ve had personal encounters with this type of intruder in various ways over the years – the crawling and the walking kind. With race, it was a climate of apartheid and physical danger in segregation; a struggle with the gap in communicating our experiences that emerged with integration; then research, interviews and books about the topic, academic study, media productions, and public dialogues. People would complain about suffering from racial fatigue then demand that I tell them why the problem wasn’t fixed.

That’s why I was reminded of the dinner party hosted so long ago and how we are social animals. When we sense something encroaching on us that doesn’t belong, the survival instinct kicks in.

I had to think quickly, otherwise the gathering would end.

Growing up, we lived in an aging apartment with sketchy neighbors where you could never be completely safe from an infestation and we lived in a climate where heat was more of the villain than our cleanliness. So, I learned that there is a hierarchy to these trespassers. You can rank them by size. The smaller ones are pesky, always darting around and in the way, and you need to spray often or else they get out of hand and spread. The larger ones are slower but relentless, and often harder to catch out in the open. You can set traps and call in professionals, but the truth is that these are ancient, primordial creatures, around as long as humankind. They are survivors, too.

So we have to keep coming up with new strategies that evolve over time, in addition to the direct attacks.   

If you have some strongly held beliefs that serve humanity, now is the time to act on them. If you are inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, work towards it. His metaphoric “dream” was not some nirvana: it was a glimpse of hope and possibility in the aftermath of a battle – a breather before the next mountain climb. No one stays effective in the long run who is always operating in the fight-and-die mode.    

For some in my generation advancing age has become a softener of the hardened places, pulling us away from the headlines to re-access. The loss of a loved one or a career. Financial crisis or divorce. Severe health challenges. They all tend to awaken us to the commonalities of our human frailties.

I’d love to have some intimate dinner parties these days with people on the other side of the table where we could share some of our truths, even when they differ – as long as the essence of those truths did not wish others harm. I know these types of conversations about race are possible. In my Race and Change presentations we come together in dialogues like well-prepared meals and a guest list that continues to grow.

My personal life has become simple. The Southern background has prepared me well.

We were schooled from childhood to stay alert to the “us” or “them” nature of these intruders. They thrive on fear and revulsion. They test you, coming out when you least expect it, flying across the room as you chase them, and scurrying away to the corners of life until the light is turned on. Heck, they’ll run you crazy if you don’t watch out! To combat racism and bigotry you have to do the same – make them unwelcome in the room. Smart folks know to keep a can of spray nearby.

A Writer’s Therapy for the Racial Heart

Massage is a favorite pastime of mine, something I discovered well into my 40’s while wallowing in the discomfort of divorce, teenage childrearing, career changes and personal demons.  A friend took control one afternoon, roused me from under the covers pulled over my head, and deposited us both in separate rooms on therapists’ tables.  

When I am asked about the Race and Change presentations I do around the country today, sharing stories and encouraging dialogue across cultures and maintaining pragmatic optimism in discomforting, troubled times, I tell folks it can be a lot like my introductory massage experience.

I lay there, at first, full of tensions but wary, fearing an onslaught of pain.  Instead, I felt the slow stages of release urged on by the kneading of healing hands. When the mind won’t stop spinning and the spirit is low, sometimes you’re willing to try something new just to step away for awhile and escape – in a healthy way.

Over the decades some of my best thinking – and creating – have emerged in moments of submission and retreat, even as aging takes a toll.

“Clear the knots in my thighs and legs with extra elbow and forearm pressure.”

“My tight shoulders need some deep tissue work.”  

Now, before I undress for a massage I dole out directions.  During the intimacy of these encounters, conversations may drift into sensitive areas not usually traversed between strangers.  One massage therapist confides that she wants to write her story to help others, but never felt smart enough in that area.  Another ponders the messiness of life and why God allows so much trouble in the world.  Another likes my smile and asks my age, and is surprised at the answer.  I tip her well.  But most times I prefer exchanges of the silent kind.  

With eyes closed, I am no longer concerned about superficialities. The wing-flapping upper arms fold in softly; the annoying pouch of stomach disappears.   And in this state, as the body submits, the senses communicate differently. Random imaginings slip in and out of my mind. An old smell will rise up, perhaps, conjured from a long ago memory.

Researchers on aging say that is one sense that decreases steadily after the age of 45, so I feel lucky that I’ve held onto a few: Witch hazel, strong as sour oranges, doused on my scraped and bruised skin as a child.  The sickly-sweet Apple Jack tobacco my grandfather chewed. My ex-husband’s Brut cologne lingering heavy in the room the morning after.  Sounds vacillate more with age, however.

I used to savor the murmurings of my son and daughter having sibling fun on the living room floor at my feet tuning into the whispered conspiracies and deciphering the rise and fall of contentment in their tones. Now, forget it. The volume on my televisions and phones must be set on high just to hear them and I still don’t get every word. As we age, our conversations become repetitive out of necessity. We start listening for the gist of things in life and accept that we may not ever discern it all.  
My taste buds, however, have rarely failed me – being a southerner, and all.

We’ve certainly have had to bite off some unsavory chunks of life, and swallow – hard historically, and we continue to be the symbolic epicenter of struggles against the country’s injustices today. But whatever doesn’t kill you can make you stronger, they say.  The trick is not to choke, and die.  

I grew up seeing boys flirt and moan over a “tasty dish” of a girl and grownups sashay around a room offering “a taste” with a bottle of booze in hand.  Every cooking woman has at least one recipe with a taste of some secret ingredient thrown in.  And in southern-speak, “a little taste” of something doesn’t ever mean just a little bit.  As we get older, however, those darn researchers on the brain have also found that we start to lose some of our taste sensations as well.  

I can accept that a slight decrease in taste buds comes with maturity.  We’re losing hair, bones, and bodily fluids in large quantities.  The tongue registers only four main tastes, anyway, and over time, maybe we need less of some of them, anyway.

Salty tears.

Bitter words.  

Sour  attitudes.  

The sweet memories, however, we might want to hold onto as long as we can.  

Other physical changes start showing up as well that seem to parallel our emotional journey.  Digestion becomes more difficult, perhaps making it harder for us to keep shoving some things down.  There may be a loss of teeth – so we don’t always get a good grip on things we love or things that need.  We have dryness in the mouth – from anxiety at times – and difficulty swallowing some of the repercussions of our actions.  But none of that should stop us from nurturing a hardy overall appetite for life.
In the massage room, a flute melody syncopated with raindrops, comes on in the background – or maybe I just become aware of it there.  I try to stay still but my foot flexes to the rhythm as the therapist’s fingers rub tenderness into a new group of muscles.

 I am reminded of a palm reader I met long ago who surveyed my hand with a similar insistent imprint.  I have a long lifeline, she said, starting high between the thumb and forefinger, arching downward, and disappearing just short of the wrist.  It lies just below the head and the heart lines in everyone’s hand.  She traced my deep brown crease like a trail in the sand.  But there are two lifelines, she said – not identical and not mirror opposites of each other, either.

 The left hand has the marks of the destiny we are born with; the right hand has the destiny we create.

After that, I started examining both of them closely when I thought about it, looking for the differences.  The line on my left was strong and steady and wide, a broad Master’s stroke. Years of lifting and carrying and clench-fisted blunders had not altered it at all, or not so that I could tell.  The right one seemed more delicately fashioned by comparison, although still well-defined.  In a couple of spots near the beginning, tinier lines appear like sharp branches or offshoots that surface briefly and then fade.  Another crosses much lower – a fine, distinct impression made just past the midway point.  Thin threads intersect and cross the head and heart, but the ones on the lifeline seem to be the most indelible.  They represent milestones, the palm reader said – turning points, shifts and changes that come with time.  
A shift in perspective.

That happens on the massage table and, hopefully, in the Race and Change presentations, too. After every session I know I feel a little lighter – in body and psyche – if just for a few hours.  

Back at home I may put on some jazz, or Brazilian music I can pat my foot to, or more likely, an inspirational CD. And, from time to time I’ll half-listen because my mind may wander.

But you can be sure the volume will be turned up loud so I can hear – and my neighbors may have to hear, too.

The Sisterhood of Only Children

blog photo

As an only child, sometimes I admit to being envious of people with siblings, especially later in life. How great it must be to grow old with someone who has known you almost from the start.

Sure, I was always affectionately called “the baby” who never had to share presents, clothes, or a parent’s attention while growing up.  As I made my way in the world I didn’t have the burden of someone else’s image to fall short of or someone else’s ego to overshadow. But, I also never had anyone to help split chores, escape discipline, or stand up to a fight – or sort out the complexities of family over the years.

And, as we age, we only children become the lone dancer in the ceremonies of parental care.

Gratefully, I have created an extended family of Sister-Friends – Black, White and Hispanic – who have become my fellow travelers for several decades on this journey of Race and Change experiences in America.  Now we also share another bond linking the first wave of Boomers. I have joined them as part of the growing sisterhood of motherless daughters as the baton is passed our way.

Our generation seems to be mastering the routines of end-life caretaking with varying degrees of grace. Some are daily ministers, wiping foreheads, squeezing hands, and holding on tight until the end of their loved one’s journey. Some are healers of the past, dabbing away resentments and sipping some sweetness from those final hours. Others squirm – at sitting still, at placing their lives on hold for someone else. They may avoid phone calls or wish their duties away. Those with resources call upon them; but most just get up, face the music, and resume the rhythm again the next day.

The only child may have to assume all those roles at some point, to some degree, and may carry the sense of loss alone. But when the mother-stone that sharpened her edges is gone, the motherless daughter gets to create our own ritual of remembering.

That’s how I found myself recalling the stately grandmother tree and my mourning of its demise a decade ago.

I sat relaxing on the back patio of my church on a Sunday looking out at the clearing where the tree had been recently removed. I had taken her for granted for so many years.  When the humid Florida morning would send others inside for after-service fellowship in the cooler air, I would accept her offering of a canopy of shade.

It was easy to see how she got her name.  Like a perpetual sentry she stood, full grown and mature long before most of us were born, formidable in size.  At least 10 sets of human arms could link around her trunk comfortably. Deep roots curled up around it like cords of muscle circling a leathery thigh.  Cracks and spider vein scars formed crevices hollowed by time.  Moss, like a grayish tangle of matted, uncombed hair, dripped copiously to the ground from branches broken in places but reaching for the sun, sprouting hope with each new leaf.

It took one of the strongest storms in recent memory to topple her.  Or maybe she was finally ready to give up.   Either way, after many months, scores of hands, and thousands of dollars, her remains were disposed of – but her legacy remains.

What a graceful way to grow old when the time has passed for dancing alone in the wind, I thought then, staring at the space she once held.  That’s what I will continue to remember for the remainder of this journey alone.

Generational Moments of Race and Change

Before I start my self-guided tour of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN, I am urged to see a short introductory film about injustice and the worldwide struggle for equality that precedes the exhibits.  I agree, reluctantly.  I just want to get on with things. And then I have to wait for a few dozen listless, mostly Black high school students to gather in the viewing room before the film can start.  They titter when a close-up of a veiled Muslim woman is shown on the screen, the only time a reaction is registered, and it disturbs me.  I wonder if they even know what emotions the image is provoking.  And, who knows how those emotions might be acted upon with some type of prejudiced behavior later on.   

By the end, though, they are quiet, filing out to tour the exhibits on their own.  Thoughtful, perhaps. But a moment is lost. It’s a shame, I think, that I don’t see their chaperones around.  

Later, two girls from the group dash past me as I view the recreation of King’s cell when he was arrested and jailed in Birmingham. They rush as if they are late for an appointment.  I have stopped to read the transcript of the phone call to his wife which President Kennedy personally arranged.  The endearments are there – concern for the children and the family’s welfare and concern for publicity to make sure the arrest continues to get press attention, continues to be noticed and reported on.  The two high school girls appear again, just as suddenly, headed the other way, as if exploring but not sure of where to go.  They glance my way this time, talking loud enough for me to hear.

“You’re looking at your future,” quips one, gesturing towards the cell.

“As long as I can stand up,” the taller one says dryly.  

No, that’s not your future.  Don’t say that, I say low, under my breath.

I want to call out as they sashay away, but their backs disappear around a corner, fast, again.  A moment lost.  I finish reading the transcript in silence and start off towards the next exhibit, in the last direction the girls had followed. Then a voice drifts over my head.  

“So what is this supposed to mean?”  

The tall girl has materialized behind me, and she is peering, perplexed, through the bars and into the jail cell.  This time she is alone.  

I turn around and head back to her and start to explain.  I tell her about King’s choice to be arrested and to make a statement in the movement.  About his letter from a Birmingham jail exhorting others to keep the faith.  About the significant choices we can make when we have a conscience and the belief that we can make a difference by doing something we know to be right.  What surprises me is the way she stands still, not smiling or nodding, just listening.  

My babbling spills out, overflowing, before I can shut it off.  I stop myself, embarrassed at coming on so strong.

“Oh,” she says, nodding, eyes squinted up a little. “That’s interesting.”  She is thinking.

“Well, now you know,” I say, “and you can explain to other people.”  

She nods and smiles.  I take that as a good sign and wave goodbye as she goes her way into another part of the museum, and I go mine.

Later, after the Civil Rights Museum visit, I recall that encounter as I sit at a fast food restaurant table with coffee and a newspaper, sorting things out, considering my next move before heading back to the hotel.  I am aware of a child, about 10, passing by, trailing her mother, and my head is drawn up in her direction for some reason.  Barrettes bounce from the tips of her braids as she walks and she looks at me squarely, and smiles, with mirror eyes.  For a moment, in her face I see hope, and it lifts my spirits. I just hope she sees the same in mine.

How To Be Hopeful In A Negative World

One of the worse traits you can have these days – aside from being a liberal – is optimism in a negative world. You are branded as someone who is out of touch with reality. In a climate of conversation that requires you to engage in the litany of examples of how bad things are, if you counter with a “yes, but,” expecting a mature debate, you’re tuned out or dismissed as a deluded child. 

While on an outing recently with my grandkids, I was reminded of just how far the pendulum has swung.  I shared some factual information – the location of a new play area – and one of them asked how I found out about it and I said the newspaper. From the backseat my analytical grandson piped up, “You can’t trust newspapers. They don’t tell the truth. And you can’t trust technology.” Of course I made the correction (our job is to pay attention, do the homework, assess the sources, the free press, etc.). In the quiet I could hear the inner wheels turn. But the fact that all of this was necessary in an exchange with a SIX-year-old already on the road to jadedness was enlightening since we say our innocent children are the hope for the future.

I have been called a pragmatic optimist. Those are people who pay attention, see what’s happening, and have a pretty good grasp on the range of problems. They also have experienced enough history, societal and personal, to know that things – and people – do change, but as long as we are alive, challenges will always remain.

Positivism is the popularized description. Psychological research does seem to suggest that we who practice it are going against the grain. The brain, it seems, is like Velcro when it comes to negativity and Teflon when it comes to positivity. Numbers like these confirm this assessment:

5-10: That’s the number of positive events it takes to counter-balance one negative event.

12: That’s the number of seconds for good news to travel from temporary memory to long term memory. 

3/4: That’s the amount of our vocabulary that negatively describes people.

2/3: That’s the percentage of English words that convey negatives.

And here’s the kicker: We know that negative people can be like a virus, infecting positive people. But did you know that positivism is actually bad for some people? Their psyches can’t handle it; it makes them sick to try and think in a different way .So, what are we positive folks to do?

I take heart from a conversation with my doctor the other day encouraging me to keep on doing what I’m doing. She has a practice filled with aging agitated Baby Boomers who are worrying themselves into a state of disease over things they cannot control. And, based on the wealth of memoirs and personal stories of people faced with an illness or survival situation, no one ever cites a negative view of the world as the path to healing and growth. Instead, they go within, find resources to help them start enjoying the smallest things in life and they do the best they can as individuals to make a contribution to the world in a positive way.

Meanwhile, those of us who are already there have no problems recognizing each other. In a gathering where the debilitating wave of anguish and futility begins to rumble around the room, we’re the ones who drift away. Huddling together in a corner, we gain strength from each other nodding our heads and laughing about life like kids.  

The Beatles and Segregation: A Message for the Younger Generation

The Beatles and Segregation: A Message for the Younger Generation

By Dr. Kitty Oliver

From a Race AND Change perspective, the story recounted in Ron Howard’s documentary The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years about the band’s refusal to perform for a segregated audience in Jacksonville, FL, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement – and my decision to be one of only a handful of Black youth to attend the concert – has resonated with so many people for a reason.

It offers us a rare chance to talk about race beyond the traumatic events of the day – not just because of them.

As an oral historian and researcher on race relations committed to ongoing dialogues across cultures I have found that we are well-versed in conversation about troubling racial times.  The themes of prejudice and discrimination, oppression and resistance, and how to keep discouragement from overcoming goodwill seem to reoccur in every generation.

If those of us in the generation of the first wave of Beatles fans have learned anything, though, and have any message to give to younger people, it should be this: Life is a continuous presentation of problems to confront, come to terms with, or solve and we are products of survivors who endured even more and put their hope in us.

In the Beatles era of the mid-1960s the conversation was also about violent, repressive times. The four young musicians acted spontaneously from conscience and took a risk – and so did I. And now, over 50 years later, their stand is still remembered, and who would have predicted that my personal decision would lead me from segregation to international cross-cultural work?

The Race AND Change community is launching a new project to acknowledge, honor and award members of the younger generation today who are also taking a stand for what is right and just and serves humanity in their everyday lives – those who are moving out of their comfort zone and building bridges across differences despite resistance, since every culture has a negative name for people who do.

These are “Agents of Race AND Change.” They need encouragement from us and we need them.

Watch the Race and Change Facebook Page for updates on how to identify and nominate young people who are modeling a different conversation: how to touch the world in a positive way during troubling racial times.

Please “Like” the Race AND Change page on #facebook. #raceandchange